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What Culture Do I Belong To?

Excellent sample paper 1 by A. Abero Fall 2009.

Being born in the United States a Filipino-American, I have always had this underlying feeling of being "different" from the majority of my classmates growing up. Most of my classmates were predominately Caucasian, and I would always be part of the "few" who stood out from the rest. My parents and close relatives (who all immigrated from the Philippines some 30 years ago), never taught my brother or I how to speak Tagalog, which is one of the native languages spoken in the Philippines. My Mom would cook traditional Filipino fare, such as Pancit, a noodle dish, to Adobo, which is any kind of meat (usually pork) that is marinated in soy sauce and other spices). We would also eat a lot of Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Round Table Pizza, the typical "American" fast food. Although I knew my heritage is Filipino, having been raised in society that is "American", I associate and relate more to this western culture, rather than my Filipino heritage.

In the text, "Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to- Earth Approach", the author James M. Henslin defines culture as the language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that are passed on from one generation to the next (Henslin p.36).
Growing up, the predominant language that was spoken in my house was English. My parents would speak to each other and to their siblings in Tagalog, but never to my brother or myself. I often wonder why they never they taught us to speak in their native language, as I feel that language is an important contributor in what can define and associate people to a culture. The primary way in which people communicate with one another is through language-symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways for the purpose of communicating abstract thought (Henslin p. 43). Coming home from college in Seattle one year, I just came off from a long ride on the Greyhound bus. As I was waiting at the Greyhound bus terminal over in downtown Portland for my cousin to pick me up, an older Filipino lady came up and approached me. Immediately she started to speak to me in Tagalog. Now, since my parents and older relatives spoke to each other in Tagalog, I picked up a few words and can even get the gist of what their conversations were about, but never had the ability to respond back. I looked at the older Filipino lady with a sort of blank stare, and I had to stop her in the middle of her sentence and say, "I'm sorry, I do not understand what you are saying." She gave me this look of disgust and appallment. She then asked me, "What? You don't know how to speak Tagalog? Where are you from? Who are your parents?" She acted like it was the most horrible thing on earth that I am full-blooded Filipino, yet I am unable to speak the native language. At that moment, I felt this sort of shame and belittlement inundate my entire body. I felt like a sham, a phony because how could I call myself "Filipino" if I couldn't even speak the language. I had to tell myself that I did nothing wrong, that it was because of the way I was brought up. I didn't grow up in the Filipino society, and my whole life I have only been familiar with American culture.

I always felt, and sometimes still to this day, somewhat robbed of my cultural heritage. I don't have very many Filipino friends, nor have I even been to the Philippines, which I wouldn't even call my native homeland. My parents both had very poor upbringings growing up in the Philippines, and both moved to the United States to have better lives. With raising my brother and I in an American culture, they felt that if they taught us English and raised us in an "American" way, that we would both adapt better to the culture, but still keeping some of the Filipino traditions. The problem with this kind of upbringing is that it creates this sort of cultural confusion.

We are to adapt to and blend in with this society in which we live in, yet we are expected to follow traditions from a culture that we hardly associate with. In the text, it talks about cultural diffusion, in which a group is willing to adapt and change their own ways in order to fit into another society, or norm (Henslin p. 56). This is exactly what my parents did with raising my brother and I, and this, at least for me, has distorted my idea of what culture I should be following. In one hand, I am American because I speak the language, I know all of the cultural norms, and it is the culture I grew up with. On the other hand, I am Filipino because that is my blood heritage, where both of my parents came from, and is the box I check when I fill out those surveys where they ask what ethnic background you are. Sometimes I will check the Asian/Pacific Islander if the survey is not being specific. So you can see how confusing this can get.

With my parents trying to adapt themselves, and my brother and I into this American Culture, there is this question of are we abandoning our Filipino culture? In the text, "Essentials of Sociology", it talks about cultural leveling, a process in which cultures become similar to one another (Henslin p, 56). With adapting to this society with which we live in, in one aspect it can say that we are shamed of who we are, and we do not want to stand out from the "norm" of this society. Another way to look at it is that since my parents chose to move to the United States, they want to be respectful of the American culture by learning and imitating as much as they can of the people and ways of this society as a way of integrating themselves. Does this ultimately mean that we are abandoning out Filipino heritage? Maybe so. With my brother and I growing up in the United States, our way of living and thinking is going to be very different than of someone who was born and raised in the Philippines. In the Philippines, traditionally, the youngest (especially the girl) would have to live with their parents until they find a husband that will take care of them. For myself, I grew up in a culture where once you turn 18 years old, you are free to be independent, and move out of your parent's house. I just recently moved out of my parent's house, and I basically broke all the social norms of Filipino culture. First off, I moved out of my parent's house without being married first. Secondly, my roommate happens to be male. The way I think of it, if my parents wanted to raise children in the United States, then they must find a way to learn to accept that we are going to go by the social norms of the society in which we grew up in.

Having to be Filipino-American female living in an American culture has been struggle for me my entire life. Living in essentially two different cultures has eschewed my relations with both cultures (much more so with the Filipino culture), and maybe only once I visit the Philippines and see the place where my parents grew up, can I then have a better understanding and a newfound sense of pride of my Filipino heritage.

Henslin, James M. 2009. Essentials of Sociology. A Down-to-Earth Approach. Pearson Custom Publishing